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Disinformation Watch #25: On ‘false evidence’ and discrediting an inquiry

Saviour Balzan
Saviour Balzan.

In his weekly column in newspaper Illum, Malta Today Managing Editor Saviour Balzan wrote that “if there is an award that [assassinated journalist] Daphne Caruana Galizia deserves is one given for all that a journalist should not do: blab, write reports without verifying first, mixing publicity with journalism, attacking people on a personal level and, worst of all, lying”.

Caruana Galizia was awarded the Martin Adler Prize at the prestigious Rory Peck Awards last Thursday, to top the list of awards she received in the year following her death. But this has irked Balzan, who made a habit out of calling the murdered journalist “the queen of bile” when she was alive and now continues in the same vein after her death.

Balzan writes this in his newspaper that has just been exposed publishing a fictional story last Sunday based on what he had written in his other newspaper the previous week.

On 28 October, Illum published a front page “exclusive” about how the three court experts previously named by Balzan (and named again in Illum’s article) cost the taxpayer €136,654. Except this was blatantly untrue, as confirmed by a parliamentary question (PQ) last Friday that listed the costs of the inquiry so far.

Illum’s story was published without verifying with the parties involved, making wild and false accusations against people that risk jeopardising the integrity of a magisterial inquiry into the journalist’s assassination. Worst of all, it was based on lies.

Answering a PQ by Labour MP Clayton Bartolo, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici revealed that the total cost of the inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s murder so far was €136,465.

The figure was close, except Illum attributed the cost to only three experts rather than the entire inquiry – something that would have been pointed out if the paper had bothered to first verify with those falsely accused.

But Balzan is still focused on Caruana Galizia, insulting her beyond the grave rather than looking in the mirror.

The breakdown of costs tabled in Parliament shows that the cost of two of the three experts named by Balzan was actually €17,068 – far from the €136,654 plastered on Illum’s front page last week. One of those named by Balzan did not even appear in the list of expenses.

But this is what Balzan focused on – false allegations – while he seems to have missed the fact that more than half the cost of the inquiry was Marisa Cassar’s BioDNA company paid €66,693 for lab analysis.

Yet there was no retraction from Illum… or the Labour Party’s propaganda outlet One News that conveniently repeated the story questioning the integrity of a magisterial inquiry. This is the news outlet of the Party in government and as such has access to real costs and facts if it bothered with the truth.

It’s important to question why the government’s news outlet is aiming to discredit an inquiry, at a time when the Prime Minister is refusing to allow an independent public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s assassination on the grounds that the magisterial inquiry is enough.

There was no retraction. There was no correction. Instead, Balzan chose to pontificate on what a journalist should be…again making wild accusations against a dead woman who can’t reply and show him up for what he is.

Caruana Galizia had exposed Balzan’s late night chat with the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri at a time when the government was cornered – Balzan had threatened to sue for libel, only to retreat when the logs were published proving she was right.

On another occasion, Balzan even tweeted he could confirm there was no safe in Pilatus Bank when (by his own later admission) he was not even in Malta at the time so the only way he could confirm anything was by someone else telling him. This was confirmed by sources within his own newsroom.

And this is not the first time that Illum got caught publishing information fed by “sources” with a dangerous agenda. Many will recall the article penned by 2013 Labour Party billboard celebrity and member of online Labour groups Albert Gauci Cunningham who is the ‘editor’ of Illum and who, before the 2017 snap election published an article announcing that the Egrant inquiry was ready resulting in him being called in by the magistrate for a rebuke.

In between reports by convenient new outlets muddying facts, and selective police leaks to handy outlets that are then proved wrong but go unreported, the distinction between truth and fiction is being intentionally blurred.

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